A bipartisan group of lawmakers are calling on the Obama Administration to take immediate action to prevent a constitutional crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Legislation (H.R. 780) introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Chairman of the House panel that oversees Africa and Human Rights issues, urges Obama to impose sanctions up to and until the government of President Joseph Kabila stops undermining the constitutional provisions on elections. The other original co-sponsors are House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), Foreign Affairs Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Subcommittee Ranking Member Karen Bass (D-CA).
“All proper preparations should be made to ensure a free, fair and transparent election in the DRC, but the Kabila government, faced with an unalterable constitutional bar to the President’s reelection, has chosen to delay its way into continuing Kabila’s term in office,” Smith said. “Such a strategy is unacceptable to democracy advocates around the globe and does not have the support of the Congolese people as indicated by demonstrations and a nationwide one-day strike on February 16. Obama needs to act now to prevent further unrest and support the people of the DRC”
Violent demonstrations against Kabila’s efforts to delay the elections by as much as three years have been reported by the US Embassy in the DRC and other observers predict chaos in the country if Kabila remains in office beyond his term. According to election regulations in the DRC, a national census and revision to voter rolls must first take place to guarantee the credibility of the vote, but there has been little effort to make sufficient progress to allow elections this year. This strategy is known in French as “glissement” or slippage.
According to the current constitution, Kabila’s final term ends on December 19 and elections scheduled for November would select a new president before Kabila’s term expires. If no election is held and a presidential vacancy is declared, the President of the Senate is designated to assume power for a three-month term in order to hold elections. However, on May 11, the Constitutional Court handpicked by Kabila announced that the president would remain in office until his successor is voted in.
“President Kabila’s refusal to commit to stepping down at the end of his term is pushing the DRC into deeper political and economic crisis. This resolution sends a clear message: President Kabila should respect the DRC’s constitution and hold the timely elections that Congolese want,” Royce said. “The ongoing crackdown on peaceful activists and political opposition must stop. The administration has the authority to sanction individuals in the DRC who are undermining the democratic process, and it’s now time to use this powerful tool.”
“To echo the message I delivered to the Congolese government earlier this year, we hope that President Kabila respects the Constitution and the will of the Congolese people, and allows the DRC to remain on a democratic trajectory,” Engel said. “The sanctions included in this measure aren't meant to punish the Congolese people, nor are they a silver bullet for the country’s political challenges. They are one tool to encourage the government to organize elections, as the country’s Constitution demands. We look to the Congolese government, opposition, and civil society to come together and address the technical and political roadblocks to democratic transition.”
“This resolution seeks to support the rights of the citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo and to help ensure that their rights are not dismissed summarily by a leadership seeking to over extend its hold on to the reins of power,” Bass said.